SHANNON DRAYER

Drayer: Mariners asked Julio Rodríguez to ‘light it up’ — now ‘it’s on’

Apr 4, 2022, 12:53 PM | Updated: 7:06 pm
Mariners Julio Rodríguez...
Mariners prospect Julio Rodríguez greets fans before a game against the Angels on Oct. 2, 2021. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

It’s Julio time.

Julio Rodríguez on making the Mariners’ roster: “It’s a dream day”

In perhaps the least surprising move of the spring, it was announced Monday morning that yes, Julio Rodríguez has made the Mariners’ opening day roster. The door was left wide open heading into spring training, and Julio did everything he needed to do to show he was ready – and then some.

In the fall of 2020, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto allowed for the possibility of Rodríguez being called up to Seattle sometime in 2021. It sounded outrageous at the time – the 2020 minor league season had been wiped out and he had played all of 84 games stateside at the time – but the following spring Julio gave a preview of what we would see this year. He was faster than expected, got his hits, and most impressively displayed an approach well beyond his years.

“I’m committed to my plan,” Rodríguez said last spring. “If it’s not in my zone, I’m not going to swing. Two days ago I got called out on a strike. It was a good pitch by the pitcher. OK, I’m going to tip my hat. It was not my pitch, it was your pitch, good for you.”

Julio of course did not break camp with the team last year, but eyes were further opened. He started the season at High-A Everett with the organization treating him in a way that was anything but typical for a prized prospect, allowing him to leave the team on three different occasions to compete for the Dominican Republic national team first in Olympic qualifiers and then the Tokyo Olympics. The thinking was he could pick up big time experience in these games he could not get anywhere else. Truth be told, they probably also did not want to say no to their prized prospect and risk any bad feelings, but there are obvious risks that come with letting a player outside of the protective organizational bubble.

Turns out there was nothing to worry about. Julio has excelled on every field he has played on. Coming out of 2021, he still had amassed just 46 games above High-A, but there was little question he would have a legitimate chance to make the team this spring. Dipoto said so much in the fall and came back with even stronger comments after the MLB lockout provided a clear path for Rodríguez to the opening day roster in what he needed to accomplish in an abbreviated spring.

“Light it up,” Dipoto said March 11 on his weekly show on Seattle Sports 710 AM. “And I suspect he will come ready to do that.”

Julio did that with the bat, glove, legs, presence – you name it. In short, he wrote perfect script for himself.

First at-bat? Home run. Center field? Sure. On first base? Not any more! Exit velocity of 115 mph-plus? Yep, still there. Bad game? Let’s just follow that up with an inside the park home run where this time, wink, I’ll just go ahead and pick up third base coach Manny Acta along the way.

Probably doesn’t hurt that the kid is immensely marketable as well, but that’s just a bonus. Nah, check that. Have fun. Enjoy.

Are you ready for a little spotlight on Seattle? Sure, the Mariners are expected to compete and that is a nice story, but it is players like these that can bring serious attention.

This has the potential to be a ton of fun, but let’s take a moment to remember that breaking into the big leagues is a tough process for even the most highly-touted prospects. There will be a lot of firsts, a lot of learning and yes, there is bound to be struggle even if he won’t admit it. In 2019 when asked in a “get to know” interview to name something he wasn’t good at, he couldn’t. It wasn’t arrogance, mind you, but more of a concept he just didn’t understand. Regardless, it is important to allow for growing pains.

Monday is not about the what ifs, however. It’s a monumental day in the life of a baseball player.

Thursday in Minneapolis, the big league dream of Julio Rodríguez begins. When the news was delivered by Mariners manager Scott Servais on Monday morning, the kid was ready.

“This will be a dream that becomes reality right now,” Rodríguez said. “You work your whole life to get to this point right now. It was amazing just to see the expression on Skip’s face just tell me, ‘Yo. It’s time.'”

His response?

“It’s on.”

More on the Mariners from SeattleSports.com

Jerry Dipoto Show: How Mariners’ Jarred Kelenic is evolving his game
Stecker: M’s grueling travel can be solved with MLB realignment
Rookie Matt Brash wins final spot in Mariners’ starting rotation
Bullpen dealt another blow with Ken Giles injury
Scott Servais says Mariners are the “most complete team” he’s managed

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Wednesday, May 18 @ 4:07 pm Mariners' Marco Gonzales vs. Blue Jays' Kevin Gausman

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Drayer: Mariners asked Julio Rodríguez to ‘light it up’ — now ‘it’s on’